In Depth

South Sudan: why does Africa's newest state face civil war?

The worsening conflict in South Sudan could become a 'fully-fledged war' if no action is taken, says UN

FRESH clashes have erupted in South Sudan despite ongoing peace talks between government representatives and rebels.

Fighting began in the capital Juba in mid December but has since spread to several other cities. More than 1,000 people have been killed, and over 200,000 have been displaced by the conflict.

As clashes intensify, we examine the origin of the conflict and efforts to resolve it.

How did clashes start in South Sudan?

Africa’s newest state gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after decades of ethnic violence and civil war.

In July last year, President Salva Kiir dismissed several high-ranking government officials, including vice president Riek Machar, after they publicly opposed Kiir’s leadership and vowed to challenge him in the next election.

Fighting broke out between government forces and rebel soldiers loyal to Machar on the 15th December and President Salva Kiir accused Machar of attempting a coup d’état.

What began as a political power struggle soon divided along ethnic lines. President Kiir comes from the Dinka community and Machar from the Nuer.

The BBC reports that both sides stand accused of ethnically motivated killings.

How serious is the situation now?

According to the President of the UN Security Council, Gerard Araudsaid, the situation has the potential to become a "fully-fledged war throughout the country" between the Dinka and Nuer communities.

Al Jazeera reports that international observers are worried that the effects of yet another civil war in the region could ‘destabilise East Africa’.

The BBC describes the conflict as “army fighting against army” as many of the rebels loyal to Machar are former soldiers.

Medical charities argue that the true extent of the humanitarian crisis is hard to gauge due to a lack of access to key towns and cities.

What is being done to stop the fighting?

After several delays, peace talks between representatives from both sides began this weekend in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa.

The immediate goal of the talks is agreeing on the terms of a ceasefire as well as the release of ‘political prisoners’.

However, critics argue that the talks are futile as neither side is willing to compromise on significant issues. President Kiir has told the BBC he will not contemplate a power-sharing arrangement while Machar is demanding the president’s immediate resignation.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has said "both parties need to put the interest of South Sudan above their own", if the talks are to be a success.  

The UN currently has over 7,000 peacekeeping troops on the ground and further reinforcements have been requested.  It has promised that it will not abandon civilians but also highlighted the difficulty in patrolling such a vast area. 


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